Gayathri Vaidyanathan

Environment/science reporter

Political Football over Climate Change Rattles Windows of Ivory Tower


E&E News/Scientific American; Mar. 23, 2015

Normally, it’s football that makes the big noise at the Georgia Institute of Technology, which has been playing the game since 1905, but this year, there is an uproar in the school’s small earth science department. Two out of 34 climate scientists are being probed by members of Congress—amazingly, by both Republicans and Democrats.

Rodney Weber, an atmospheric scientist, is being questioned by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who wants to know why Weber’s climate-change-related research deserved a federal grant in 2012. And Judith Curry, an atmospheric scientist who is often critical of dominant scientific views of climate change, is being probed by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who wants to know Curry’s funding sources. Curry runs a weather-forecasting business that supplies information to oil companies, among others.

“I was personally surprised about both of [the inquiries],” said Greg Huey, chairman of the department at Georgia Tech, which is located in Atlanta. Both scientists do stellar work, he said.

“[Weber and Curry] may have different views on climate change, but I think that’s a strength of our department that we can have academic freedom and host faculty members with different opinions about subjects,” Huey said.

That a single department would receive queries from both political parties within a fortnight is a reminder that Republicans and Democrats feel the need to score political points where they can, dragging science into the spotlight when convenient.

Their target is not science so much as a slew of U.S. EPA regulations meant to clean up the nation’s coal-fired power plants and reduce the levels of smog in the air. Democrats support the regulations, most Republicans do not, and so the lineups are ready for some collegiate political football.